Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)

Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)

The first of this eagerly awaited spring migrant the Cuckoo was heard by the Carter family, LNHG members on 7th April at Kilmartin, Mid Argyll. More records poured in following this date from all over Argyll and they were widespread by mid-month. They do not spend long here, with many having flown south to Africa by the end of June. They can be found in woodland, particularly woodland edges, as well as around reed beds and the moorlands of Scotland.

Cuckoos have a grey head with a thin, bright yellow ring around their eye, yellow feet and a black beak. They have dark grey plumage on their upperparts and barred plumage below. Some females are a rusty-brown colour. In flight, the Cuckoo looks very similar to a Sparrowhawk. Look at the tail to distinguish a Cuckoo, which has a graduated tail. Cuckoos are between a Blackbird and Woodpigeon in size and they have pointed wings that droop when perched.

Cuckoos court multiple mates during the mating period in April. As brood parasites, Cuckoos do not raise their own young, instead, laying eggs in the nests of other birds, which raise the chick thinking it is one of their own. The nests of Dunnocks, Meadow Pipits and Reed Warblers are favourites. Females wait until the host has left the nest, sometimes spooking the bird away, then swoop in to lay a single egg. Cuckoos eat invertebrates, and hairy caterpillars are a particular favourite.

The chick hatches after around 11 days. It will push any other eggs or chicks out of the nest, ensuring it receives the sole attention of its adoptive parents. They will continue to feed the young Cuckoo, even though it may grow to two or three times their size. Cuckoos leave the nest after around 20 days but continue to be fed by their host for a few more weeks. Fledglings fly to Africa a few weeks after their parents.

Your best bet for finding a Cuckoo is to listen for its well-known song. Cuckoos will congregate in habitats where there are large numbers of Meadow Pipits or Reed Warblers. Look out for them perched very still, on the lookout for prey and unattended nests. You’re a lot less likely to see or hear, a Cuckoo these days. A combination of a loss of habitat and the knock-on effects to their host species affect them here in the UK, but deforestation and hunting on migration routes are also thought to have had an impact on numbers.

Click on the link below to hear the song of the Cuckoo :-

Photo courtesy of John Speirs